How to act natural on stage

I recently conducted a workshop in Toronto on how to be fully present with an audience. After going through a series of progressive exercises on the energy of presence, body language and voice, each of the participants had to get up and give a short talk. One of the participants looked down at the ground part way through hers. I coached her to keep looking at the audience. She argued that if she dropped her eyes to the ground occasionally while speaking, the audience would be forced to look at her. In fact, it had the opposite effect. It looked like she momentarily left us or forgot what she wanted to say.

Great speakers “invite” the audience in.

To invite the audience in, the relationship should be one of equal giving and receiving. Think of a guest who knocks on your door and the exchange that takes place when you let them into your home. It starts with a warm hello, smiles and maybe even a hug. If you’re happy to be in the presence of your audience they’ll feel it and respond positively, even if you’re nervous. That’s giving and receiving.

Audiences will connect if you’re being natural.

Forget the smoke and mirrors like purposely dropping the eyes down. If you’re truly having a give and take exchange with your audience, your body will react impulsively. Your arms might reach out toward them or you might take a few purposeful steps to one side of the stage and then the other to engage those sitting on either side.

Some tips on how to be natural on stage:

  1. Start observing yourself. Are you speaking at the audience, or are you inviting them in as you speak. If you’re speaking at them it will feel a little forced.
  2. Practice by telling your story to a friend. Go overboard with it and ask your friend how that felt. Likely it will have felt forced. Then truly share the story with your friend and ask how that feels. It should feel like you’re both giving and receiving.
  3. Speak from the heart with positive energy.
  4. Watch successful speakers like Bill Clinton. He always invites the audience in. Who are some speakers you like? And why do you like them?